A Letdown Meal at The Bowery Diner:
I had been eagerly anticipating the opening of Mathieu Palombino’s Bowery Diner since it was first publicized roughly one year ago. Delayed for months and months, I was getting antsy, but I remained patient because I was beyond excited for the Motorino chef to wow us with his take on American diner classics. Furthermore, Bowery Diner was to eventually be a 24-hour joint, serving breakfast at all hours, in addition to its menu of burgers, sandwiches and blue-plate specials. What could be better? Finally, after an eight or nine month delay, it opened on a quiet section of Bowery Street with a promising neon sign out front. I grabbed some friends and went for dinner as soon as I could.
Unfortunately, it fell short of my lofty expectations. Let me explain. Bowery Diner is not a bad restaurant – in fact, for having only been open for a couple of weeks now, Palombino and his crew are doing alright. Let me start with the good. The interior is warm and inviting, looking like a more sophisticated and clean version of a classic diner. Nice booths, lots of tables, a long bar. The smoked meat (something of a cross between pastrami and corned beef) is made in-house and comes in a Reuben sandwich ($17). The meat was delicious and meltingly tender, if a bit under seasoned. That same smoked meat can also be found on the Bowery Special Burger ($15), where it partners with a burger patty. This was the best dish of the night. Juicy, salty, cheesy, and straight-up delicious. The restaurant also does their potatoes well – fries were crispy and perfectly cooked and the potato pancakes are best in class.
That’s where the good turned to mediocre and uninspired. Those delicious potato pancakes are served along two pieces of roasted duck breast ($24). The duck was bland, boring and overpriced. An appetizer of Mac n’ Cheese ($9) incorporates bacon and broccoli into the mix but the result is a flavorless dud of a dish. A fried calamari salad involved five or six pieces of average diner calamari served atop frisée ($9). Strange. The Béarnaise Burger, which obviously sounded awesome, lacked any discernable Béarnaise sauce, was greasy and left us completely unexcited ($16). Some of the burgers on the menu, our server told us, could only be cooked to medium rare or well-done – nothing in between. Even stranger. The milkshakes, which had promised to be a centerpiece of Bowery Diner’s allure, were also no better than what you would find at an average Greek diner in Queens. It’s not that any of the food was that bad, per se – rather, it was that it could, and should, have been, so much better.
Photo Credits: Lily Young
The service left something to be desired as well. While the staff was perfectly friendly (with the exception of one attitude-laden hostess), the competence level was shockingly low. Nearly all of the servers we encountered seemed like they had never worked in restaurants before – which would be okay, had they been trained in the slightest. Again, I appreciate that the restaurant just opened and is likely just gathering its footing. But how could a restaurant which had taken so long to open and been delayed for so many months neglect to adequately train their staff? And what a huge staff it is: there must have been about 25 employees working the floor, with about 20 patrons eating in the restaurant.
Mediocre dishes and incompetent service can be improved upon, and with a restaurateur like Palumbino, I wouldn’t be surprised if Bowery Diner did just that. But the whole concept of the place eluded me to an extent. The prices are too high for the food that’s being served. Either Palumbino can decrease the prices and continue serving this food, which would be fine, or he could keep the prices the same, but up the effort in the kitchen. He needs to choose one, or the criticism from diners and reviewers will continue. I hope the recently-launched brunch, which looks promising and reasonably priced, will fare better than dinner. But if not, I’ll have to concede that my excitement all these months was nothing more than a waste.
The Bowery Diner is located at 241 Bowery St. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Phone # 212.388.0052. Website: bowerydiner.com